Z (Costa Gavras)
This is the story behind Greece when it was at a major turning point in the 60s: democracy or totalitarianism. The film is in French, the acting is excellent, the cinematography is at once classic and playful, hesitating between just telling the story borrowing some new techniques from New Wave cinema. The film starts like a slow motor, but gets you hooked by halfway, and the ending sequence is riveting, back when they new how to make human drama and court scenes riveting, and without even using pixar technology. Watching the movie really gives you a sense of the trials facing opposition movements in places like Iran or Egypt today.
Harlan County, USA
This is the story of some minors going on strike in the early 70s in the Kentucky. A documentary crew happened to be around working on another story when things started heating up, so they switched their focus and developed the situation of the minors. It is really great footage, much of it is unmatchable in a number of ways. On one hand, you see the way minors and their families lived in extreme poverty. There is a scene with an old timer on his porch rocking chair doing an acappella of a bluegrass style minors tune. We later find out he is dying of black lung, as are many of them. Another fantastic scene shows a woman just like some of my more boisterous great aunts giving an impromptu rally call at a union meeting. The minors were getting really intimidated and demoralized, since the bosses had hired thugs to beat them (and worse – the documentary films several shooting incidents) up whenever they tried to hold a picket line at the mine. After this woman prods them into an energetic optimism, they come with their own guns to reclaim their legitimacy. For many reasons, this is one of the best five documentaries I’ve ever seen.